Do you struggle with anxiety? Have you ever considered taking medication for your anxiety?
The reality is there are so many different ways to treat a mood disorder like anxiety and depression.
If you have struggled with any sort of mood disorder, it’s likely you have considered taking medication for it.
In this post, I will share my top signs that you may need medication for your anxiety. It is important to discuss your unique situation with your healthcare provider.
SHOULD YOU TAKE MEDICATION FOR YOUR ANXIETY?
When used correctly and prescribed by a physician who can follow up regularly, medications can be helpful tools for treating anxiety. Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and other types of antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications are very safe and can be very effective when used properly.
Just like any other medication ever, there are pros and cons to taking any medication.
As in all other health conditions, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of any medication. This includes comparing the risk of side effects with the potential benefits of treating a condition.
THERE ARE ALWAYS PROS AND CONS TO ANY DRUG
In any situation, there are risks and benefits to any medication. In diabetes, for example, oral medications are used to keep the blood sugar controlled. The risk of this medication is that you may have episodes of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). However, this is often outweighed by the benefits you receive from treating your blood sugar. These benefits include less heart disease, less kidney disease, lower risk of blindness, etc.
In a mood disorder like anxiety or depression, these conditions can be as debilitating, if not more debilitating, than diabetes or heart disease. It is important to weight the pros and cons of any treatment in this illness as well. Certain anti-anxiety medication may carry a risk of nausea, weight gain or sexual side effects. However, the benefits of having your anxiety controlled may outweigh those risks. Benefits such as being less irritable or sleeping better may be very important.
That being said, I do believe that mood disorders are largely under-diagnosed and under-treated. There still remains a stigma about mental health (as ridiculous as that is). Many patients still fear judgment from others for needing medication for anxiety. Sufferers often stay quiet for far too long and are feeling terrible when they are finally treated.
It is important that we work to destigmatize mental illness. Taking a medication for your anxiety is no different than taking one for your blood pressure. Illness is illness.
MEDICATION IS ONLY ONE PART OF THE TREATMENT PUZZLE
While antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs can be very effective for treating anxiety, the important thing to realize is that medications are only one part of a treatment plan.
I only prescribe medications to someone who is connected with a therapist and who is engaging in regular self-care (or making an attempt to do so). The medications do not work in a vacuum if you do not do the work everywhere else.
MEDICATIONS AS A LIFE RING
I often share a metaphor I learned from one of my mentors regarding medications for mood disorders:
Imagine we are all on our own boats on the rocky sea of life.
Sometimes the sea is very smooth and the sun is shining. You are relaxing with ease on the deck of your boat. Life is good.
Sometimes, the sea becomes very choppy and life throws you all sorts of waves – trauma, job loss, relationship change, new baby, other stress. You are hanging on to your boat for dear life. Eventually, the waves become too much and you’re knocked off your boat, into the sea.
Once you’re in the sea, the waves keep crashing and you’re swimming as hard as you can. You’re doing everything you can just to keep your head out of the water and keep breathing.
This is what depression and anxiety feel like. When you’re swimming as hard as possible but can’t seem to keep your head up.
Now imagine your trusty local doctor on the deck of your boat throwing you a life ring. The life ring does not bring you back to your boat. The life ring helps keep you up and above the water so you can catch your breath and start swimming back to your boat.
MOOD MEDICATIONS ARE YOUR LIFE RING
Therapy, self-care and healthy habits are what strengthen your efforts and get you back on your boat.
By engaging in self-care, developing healthy habits and going to therapy, you learn to swim back to th boat. You also then have better skills to hold on next time the waves get choppy.
Disclaimer: Although I am a practising physician who specializes in mental health and anxiety, the advice I am providing here is not intended to be nor is it a substitute for assessment, diagnosis and treatment. The information provided here is intended to be educational and informational. It is not a substitute for assessment and treatment by a medical professional.
SIGNS YOU MAY NEED MEDICATION FOR YOUR ANXIETY
Sign #1: You have tried and are trying “all of the things” but you’re still not feeling well.
I had severe postpartum anxiety. Although I was an experienced mental health professional, I didn’t recognize the symptoms in myself. I became very sick with postpartum mood disorder before I realized what was happening .
As a very competent, self-reliant person and physician, once I realized what was happening (with help from a therapist), I was initially very confident in my ability to “fix” my own mental health disorder with all of the right non-drug therapies and habits.
Knowing that exercise is the best therapy available, I jumped into a 6-7 day exercise routine with fervour. I started a dedicated morning routine that included all of the fool-proof strategies for mental health: I journaled, practised gratitude regularly, meditated, visualized, read self-help books about mindfulness and overcoming anxiety and did yoga religiously.
Despite all of this, I still found myself experiencing a distressing level of worry about general everyday concerns. I was still irritable and fidgety, always feeling keyed up and unable to relax. I was emotional and cried often and had uncontrollable ruminating thoughts. My sleep suffered and I woke frequently at night for prolonged periods of time.
Eventually, I made the following realizations.
I realized that people who:
- Exercise 6-7 days a week shouldn’t be depressed and anxious.
- Meditate and practice mindfulness everyday faithfully shouldn’t still feel depressed and anxious.
- DO ALL THE THINGS shouldn’t still feel depressed and anxious.
Which led to the following conclusions:
- There was something about my mood disorder that could not be fixed with exercise, meditation, healthy eating, proper cognitive behavioural therapy, yoga, or
- There was, in fact, a chemical imbalance that I was obviously not
IT JUST WASN’T ENOUGH
I started on an antidepressant and it made a world of difference.
Now don’t get me wrong, all of the strategies, habits and therapies I spoke of above ARE effective for mood disorder in MANY people, and for a large proportion of people can be completely sufficient for treating their mood troubles.
I simply share this to say that if you’re like me and TRYING ALL THE THINGS that healthy, not-depressed and not-anxious people do and you’re still feeling unwell, medications might be a good choice for you.
Sign #2: You have learned tools to manage your anxiety but are too anxious to use them.
In today’s world of information and self-help, there are so many resources for learning very effective strategies for working with our minds and our thoughts.
Mindfulness, meditaiton and relaxation strategies are all effective means to treat anxiety.
I am a huge advocate for action-focused cognitive-behavioural therapy.
Seeing a therapist should almost be a prerequisite for being an adult.
Therapy is SO effective for improving your life and working through trauma, pathological thinking patterns and overcoming mental illness. I still refer to many of the critical thought-changing statements my therapist made during those dark postpartum days and find myself correcting false thinking patterns that make me feel more distress and anxiety.
However, having all of the tools in the world will not be effective if your anxiety level is so high that you cannot focus or control yourself enough to use them.
I will speak to this more in point 3, but if you’re experiencing panic attacks or are struggling to concentrate, you may have anxiety severe enough that you cannot tap into the rational part of your brain needed to utilize the CBT techniques you know or to focus on your breathing.
If you have been to therapy but struggle to apply what you have learned because your anxiety is so high, medication may help you. I often recommend a trial of an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication to help calm the “noise” so they can actually use the tools.
Sign #3: You are experiencing panic attacks.
Not everyone who with anxiety experiences panic attacks.
A panic attack is a sudden increase in anxiety intensity that is often accompanied by feelings of impending doom, fear for life or terror.
Panic attacks are often accompanied by powerful physical symptoms. These may include heart palpitations, sweaty palms, dizziness, tingling hands or feet and shortness of breath.
Panic attacks can happen at any time and are very distressing for anyone experiencing them. They can also be a sign of the development of a panic disorder, a type of anxiety disorder.
Panic attacks are a definite sign that anxiety is out of control.
Sign #4: You are changing your life because of your anxiety.
There are many people who walk around perfectly functional with anxiety. They are able to carry on jobs, keep relationships and go about their lives without much impact from their anxiety.
It bothers them and they would like to get it in check, but their function is not impaired in their daily activities.
But perhaps you’re starting to cancel plans because being around people makes you sweat. Or you’ve been missing work because you can’t face the drive or the stress of the job. You’re avoiding things you used to enjoy because of a fear of something happening. You are irritable and snap at your spouse or children and feel like you “can’t handle it.”
These are all signs that your anxiety is out of control and it might be time to consider a new strategy.
If you have started to identify areas of your life that you are adapting, avoiding or changing due to your anxiety being too high, it’s a good sign that medications may be effective for your treatment.
Sign #5: You are feeling
physical effects of your anxiety.
Physical symptoms such as headache and fatigue are common parts of an anxiety disorder. They can also be signs of a more significant illness which may benefit from medication.
It is not uncommon to feel many physical symptoms related to mood disorder, but they can be signs of more significant illness.
Chronic fatigue, neck and shoulder pain, headaches, muscle aches, appetite and weight changes often accompany more serious forms of mood disorder.
If your physical symptoms are increasing in association with your mood disorder, medication may benefit you. Medications can help lessen the physical symptoms of anxiety.
It’s not uncommon to feel fatigued or have a headache here and there. However, if you’re finding symptoms such as these are impacting your ability to function, it’s wise to seek out medical advice and evaluation.
Insomnia is another characteristic sign of untreated mood disorder. Difficulty falling or staying asleep and waking frequently in the night are common features of insomnia. Insomnia can be a sign of under-treated anxiety, and often sleep improves when anxiety is treated. Medications for anxiety can be helpful in improving sleep. If you’re struggling to get the sleep you need because of your anxiety, medications may be helpful.
Sign #6: You are struggling to concentrate or complete tasks.
An inability to control racing thoughts, constant rumination or overthinking and mental fogginess are common complaints from anxiety and depression sufferers.
Often they feel either very keyed up, mentally exhausted or variations of both throughout the day.
One symptom that often goes overlooked until it improves is their level of concentration.
I personally noticed a massive improvement in my ability to concentrate and complete tasks once my anxiety was under better control.
There seemed to be less chaos and noise in my brain and the relentless anxious chatter was turned down to a manageable level. I felt a renewed sense of focus and an ability to concentrate on what I was doing with enjoyment and enthusiasm.
If you have noticed your productivity isn’t what it used to be, or that you can’t seem to follow through on a task because your brain literally won’t shut up, medication for your anxiety could help
Sign #7: You are having
passive escape or even suicidal thoughts.
This is probably the most important point of this entire article.
It is unfortunately quite common to experience passive thoughts of wanting to escape your life or “not be here anymore” when you struggle with a mood disorder.
It’s all too common that our lives overwhelm our already impaired processing and can leave you feeling as if you do not have any more ability to cope.
IF YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS OF SELF-HARM, PLEASE SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE
If you’ve experienced thoughts like these before, it’s OK. You are not alone and there is
The important part is to identify these feelings as symptoms of your mood disorder not being under control and seek medical advice urgently.
If you are experiencing more active thoughts of actually harming yourself or killing yourself, it is imperative that you go to your nearest emergency department or call a suicide hotline immediately.
These thoughts are often terrifying to experience. If you experience them, seek out help and please don’t keep them quiet or a secret.
Suicide is still TOO common and is too preventable.
A mood disorder that has reached the level of passive or active suicidal thoughts has the greatest potential for treatment with mood medications. If you’re experiencing any of these thoughts, please consider medications and get the help you need.
HAVE YOU EVER TAKEN MEDICATION FOR YOUR ANXIETY?
PIN THESE TO PINTEREST!